The loudness of our cities and the havoc of technology

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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Every now and then I make sure to pay a visit to a teacher whom I’ve known for a long time. His library is diverse and exhaustive, but the books are in bad condition, as they have been borrowed and read by many people. In fact, the teacher believes that books are “wasted” if nobody lends them to others.

Sitting in these rather Spartan precincts I revert to the past, to old naïve dreams, when one drew puerile plans for bringing about change amid the city’s tranquility, particularly when the day ended after evening prayers.

Technology distorts individuality

It’s very rare for someone to keep oneself away from all the preaching, the chatter on social media to gain attention and cause discord. All these pre-occupations have distorted man’s individuality and existence. One is no longer capable of moulding one’s own personality. This is why all people today look alike. However, there are still some people who reflect upon the triviality of this world. Technology is like a pickaxe that shatters the self. It invades and encroaches upon everything, destroys the sense of amazement and wonder, dehumanizes personality, imprisons the mind and belies ignorance.

Heidegger was one of the few early philosophers to have discussed the effects of technology. He feared that technology will start affecting existence and shall be viewed as the “the era’s metaphysics.” He delved into its complexities and dangers. In his lecture “The Question Concerning Technology,” he noted that “questioning is piety of thought.” He believed in the essence behind the world of technology, which man cannot fully control. Man thus becomes captive to technology and is driven by its own impulses and tools.

Technology encroaches upon everything, destroys the sense of amazement and wonder, dehumanizes personality, imprisons the mind and belies ignorance.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

He discusses how technology has developed since the 1940’s with the introduced of the visual media, then developed nuclear weapons and then paved the way for the invention of the computer. The early technological inventions pointed to how these tools would influence the “existence” of today. It’s been an overwhelming influence to the point where those who have not kept up with technology feel isolated and ignorant. We’ve all fallen captive to this technological prison. However, why don’t we can we not condemn this jailer every now and again? This is what I am doing.

I’ve chosen to cite Heidegger because of his clear thoughts and critique of technology, its developmental stages and because he delved into details of existence and its mysteries. His entire life was an expression of his philosophy as he employed what’s within his reach to shape his concepts. His former student Hans-Georg Gadamer discusses this in his books Heidegger’s Ways and Philosophical Apprenticeships, which are about Heidegger’s philosophy, concepts and contentions.

Heidegger’s retreat

In his book Heidegger’s Ways, Gadamer writes about an instance when Heidegger showed up at a lecture wearing a ski suit. “When stopped and asked ‘Are you going to lecture like that,’ he laughed.

The reason for his laughter was that “he was giving a lecture on skiing that evening, which was to serve as an introduction to a then new course on dry skiing. The way he began the lecture was pure Heidegger. He said: One can learn to ski only on the slopes and for the slopes. The typical knock-out punch, it dealt a heavy blow to fashionable expectations, but simultaneously provided an opening for new expectations,” Gadamer quips.

Later, Heidegger wrote the book Pathmarks, which was distinguished for its use of terms like “rugged slope” and “multiple paths.” These are terms derived from skiing. But what did Heidegger do to confront all this fuss?

In his paper ‘Why do I stay in the provinces?’ which Heidegger wrote from a small ski hut in the southern Black Forest at an elevation of 1,150 meters, he said: “On a deep winter’s night when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages around the cabin and veils and covers everything, that is the perfect time for philosophy. In the public world, one can be made a ‘celebrity’ overnight by the newspapers and journals. That always remains the surest way to have one’s innermost intentions get misinterpreted and quickly and thoroughly forgotten. And this philosophical work does not take its course like the aloof studies of some eccentric.

It belongs right in the middle of the peasant’s work. When the young farmboy drags his heavy sled up the slope and guides it, piled high with beech logs, down the dangerous descent to his house… my work is of the same sort. I sit with the peasants by the fire or at the table in the corner, we mostly say nothing at all. We smoke our pipes in silence. Now and again someone might say that the woodcutting in the forest is finishing up, that a marten broke into the hen-house last night and that one of the cows will probably calf in the morning.”

Greater glory

He also narrates a story that reflects an existential stance. “Very often in the past year when I lived alone in the cabin for weeks on end, this peasant woman with her 83 years would still come climbing up the slope to visit me. She wanted to look in from time to time, as she put it, to see whether I was still there or whether ‘someone’ had stolen from me off unawares. She spent the night of her death in conversation with her family. Just an hour and a half before the end, she sent her greetings to the ‘Professor.’ Such a memory is worth incomparably more than the most astute report by any international newspaper about my alleged philosophy.”

We recall these experiences to mitigate the consequences of all this fuss around us as it’s impossible to break free from it. One, however, has the right to protest against this evident falsity now and then. Heidegger was one of those philosophers who criticized ‘nosiness’, ‘trivial chatter’, ‘demagoguery’, and ‘vulgarity’ the most.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

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